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Review of The Worst Witch at Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton

Jill Murphy's The Worst Witch first appeared in print in 1974, bringing its tale of an academy for witches to the first of a few generations. It was a long time before a certain boy wizard made his first appearance in a school of his own, and doesn't Emma Reeves, adaptor for the stage, know it. There are many a jibe at the HP universe in this stage version, that even I, someone who has never read or watched any of them (yes, really), could pick up.

Mildred Hubble arrives by mistake at the wrong university, a "normal" or "pleb" far removed from the rest of the students at Miss Cackle's Academy. Here she meets friends and enemies, and a certain evil twin bent on world domination.

Reeves' adaptation starts off slightly shakily as we are presented with what at first threatens to be a cheap rip-off of the mega stage hit The Play That Goes Wrong as we are introduced to the premise that this is a play put on by the students, complete with copycat stage ma…

Review of Rain Man at Royal & Derngate (Derngate), Northampton

The arrival of another stage adaptation of a classic film is beginning to set me on edge now, such is the bounty of them travelling across the country. However, unlike many of them, this and the previous works of The Classic Screen to Stage Theatre Company's work, isn't a musical version as is most audience-pleasingly common, so, at least at the initial stage, this feels less forcing of the current trend.

Rain Man, starring Tom Cruise as Charlie and the Oscar-winning Dustin Hoffman as the autistic Raymond, was a 1988 film depicting the journey of discovery of an unknown brother, sent away by their cruel father soon after the death of their mother. After the father dies, Charlie learns of his brother and the fact that the $3 million inheritance has been left to that unknown brother. Kidnapping Raymond, they set off on a voyage of discovery of lost child and adulthood, and the power of family.
There are some great, if not exemptional performances throughout Rain Man, some of the…

Review of Rebus: Long Shadows at Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton

Ian Rankin's John Rebus has been stalking the underworld of Edinburgh for over thirty years now in both his novels and various TV adaptations. Here though, with an adaptation by Rona Munro, the, now retired, detective, takes to the stage for the first time, and even to this reviewer, slightly lacking in knowledge (I have read the first two novels a long time ago), it proves an entertaining, if slightly unfulfilling evening at times.

The story of Rebus: Long Shadows unfolds following a chance encounter with a young girl on his tenement stairs, the wounds of two unsolved cases of murdered girls open up in Rebus' mind, leading to encounters with old colleague Siobhan Clarke, and recurring nemesis 'Big Ger' Cafferty.

At the centre of this whole production is a superb dominating performance by Charles Lawson, depicting the grizzled, weary drink swigging detective with huge skill. His whole demeanour embodies the nature of the character, from his voice to his gait and onto …

Review of West Side Story by the Northampton Musical Theatre Company at Royal & Derngate (Derngate), Northampton

Last week it was that time of year again when the talented amateur performers of the Northampton Musical Theatre Company got their moment upon the big stage of the Derngate. This year their ambition was to bring Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim and Arthur Laurents' ambitious West Side Story to the stage. Mixing classic songs and challenging dance routines revolving around the fifties set retelling of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, this was a tremendously tough show for an amateur group to take on.

However, as expected, this talented, and always near professional group made it work, despite a very shaky start. The opening, and classic, dance routine between the Jets and the Sharks, merging ballet with contemporary, never quite works, not due to lack of effort of the performers, it's just that it is just so tough to get right. It is though probably the one slightly weak part of the evening. From then on, bar a few slightly stilted dance routines, West Side Story becomes…

Review of Out Of Focus at Hardingstone Village Hall, Hardingstone

A bit over five years stalking the theatre world of Northampton and a little beyond has never oddly enough led me to the door of The Hardingstone Players. Last Friday though I finally rectified that as I saw the final performance of their production of Peter Gordon's farce Out of Focus. Never also having seen a Peter Gordon play, left me with an interesting evening ahead.

When an unfortunate over-booking at the Church Hall happens, a gathering of badminton players, brownies, pantomime actors and an odd exhibitor of slides collides into a chaotic and rather eclectic cast for this years pantomime, Super Cinders.

Presented upon an excellently created set by  Alison Roberts and Iain Hodge, the evening is set for introduction to a feast of odd characters, and this beyond everything is where the strength of this production lies. The performers had clearly gone to great lengths to make their characters as big and bold as the colours upon Cinderella's oddly shaped carriage. We have t…

Review of O,FFS by Ytho? Theatre at University of Northampton (Avenue Campus)

Sneaking out one afternoon to finally get a chance to catch O,FFS by Ytho? Theatre turned out to be a very good decision. Having been performed beyond the realms of Northampton, at the Edinburgh Fringe no less, this show landed finally at it's "home" this week of the University of Northampton, home, because this group is made up of four graduates from the University BA Actors course. It also was a landmark for myself, seeing for the first time a brand new show created purely by a group of actors consisting only of those that I had seen graduating. It was nice to see that they were doing good!

The best word to describe O,FFS is sharp. It sums up the pinpoint accuracy of delivery from the four actors, of this fast-paced, clinically constructed piece of theatre, there is no flab around this comedy. Set in the offices of a children's charity, we have some typical office staff, the supervisor, the IT guy, and specific to the charity world, the chuggers manager. Throw int…

Review of Shoulder To Shoulder at Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton

Last Sunday I spent the afternoon in the Royal watching four pieces of theatre, all inspired by a celebration of 100 years of women's suffrage. It proved an emotional afternoon, with some widely contrasting pieces of theatre work.

Opening the afternoon, was a piece devised by the collaboration of Zoo Co, Stantonbury Theatre and Stantonbury International School. Titled Suffrajitsu, it turned out to be one of the more remarkable pieces of theatre that I have seen in a long time. Seeping vast emotion from me, not just from the story of the struggle it was telling, but also the sheer brilliance of some of the incredibly well-constructed scenes that this young cast handled to perfection. From its opening, of the cast simply coming onstage in their modern clothes and dressing into a traditional dress of the time, right through to the spectacular Keystone Cops inspired finale, this was a perfectly constructed piece of theatre. Finely balanced, never boring, always entertaining, always e…

Review of Defying Gravity by Masque Theatre at The Playhouse Theatre, Northampton

I was eight when the Challenger shuttle explosion occurred and more than old enough to remember it, but curiously I have very little memory of it at the time. I have no doubt that my staple then of Newsround covered it, and probably Blue Peter, but no real vivid memory from that very day. Fortunately, director of Defying Gravity, Megan Lucus does, and that love, memory and understanding of the event drives the engine at the heart of this production (and a dedication to allow a childhood toy to get quite a pummeling as well). All theatre productions need energy and time to be put into them, however, here even with just the visual element, it is clear that this show has had so much more time than most put into it.

Defying Gravity by Jane Anderson takes six fictional characters, and one real one out of time, and takes us on a journey of what it was like to live through those 1986 events in Florida. Their account while fictional does include Teacher (Bex Fey), a very clear representation…

Review of Benidorm Live at Milton Keynes Theatre, Milton Keynes

I arrived at Milton Keynes Theatre to see this touring stage version of ITV comedy hit Benidorm with a distinct lack of knowledge. Having never seen the show, my information stretched as far as knowing it was set in a holiday resort in Spain (the title helps there), and that the humour generally resorted to the cruder end of the spectrum. However, having graced the screens for ten years, it was clear that Derren Litten's show had garnered quite a following, and indeed it was clear from the reception of the audience on the night, that this following was pretty much filling the theatre.

The plot, such as it is for this stage show, is very much drafted from an episode of Fawlty Towers, and made a great deal more adult with its humour. The hotel manager, Joyce Temple-Savage (a sharp performance by Sherrie Hewson) gets wind that a hotel inspector is in, and the scene is set for seeking them out and all the obvious cases of mistaken identity. It's thin and doesn't fill the show,…

Review of Touching The Void at Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton

For those unfamiliar with this story, this review tells more than you might want to know ahead of seeing it. So, the short review for those who don't know the story of Joe Simpson, go and see this play and then come and read this review if you wish.

Staging the 1985 tale of Joe Simpson and his somewhat unbelievable, if it wasn't true, escape from surviving three days without food and water, a 150 foot fall previous, and following breaking his leg a previous, previous, seems an insurmountable challenge, but with the clever work of writer David Greig, director Tom Morris, and designer Ti Green and the rest of the creative team, we manage during a long and pulsating evening of theatre to reach that peak.

Following a short sequence of flashes of what is to come, we join Simon (Edward Hayter), Richard (Patrick McNamee) and Sarah (Fiona Hampton) at the wake of Joe Simpson, imagined for the stage and a neat way of introducing us to the story. Here Sarah, Joe's sister becomes the …